Queen Elizabeth marks 85th with wedding venue trip

21st April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 85th birthday Thursday by visiting London's Westminster Abbey days before her grandson Prince William is married there.

The monarch was to attend the Royal Maundy service, an Easter tradition whereby the sovereign gives out specially minted silver coins to the elderly.

It was the first time in 10 years that the service has been held at Westminster Abbey.

The service comes just over a week before the wedding on April 29 of William and his fiancee Catherine Middleton.

Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip -- who turns 90 in June -- in the historic church in 1947.

The abbey's choristers and clergy will be using the Easter ceremony as a royal wedding rehearsal, while broadcasters get the chance to give their cameras, lighting and equipment a welcome test run.

The freshly minted Maundy coins -- which add up to 85 pence ($1.40, 95 euro cents), but are valuable souvenirs -- reflect a royal tradition dating back to at least the 12th century when English kings would give money to the needy at Easter time.

The word "maundy" comes from the Latin word for commandment, "mandatum", in memory of the instruction given by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper that humans should love one another.

The outing comes the day after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip met Middleton's parents for the first time.

Carole and Michael Middleton were invited to Windsor Castle, the queen's residence west of London, for a private lunch.

Middleton, 29, met the queen for the first time at the marriage of the queen's eldest grandson Peter Phillips to Autumn Kelly in May 2008.

The queen has two birthdays -- her actual birthday, and her official birthday in June, celebrated with a military parade.

At midday (1100 GMT) the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery was to provide a 41-gun salute in London's Hyde Park, while the Honourable Artillery Company will fire a 62-gun tribute from Gun Wharf at the Tower of London an hour later.

© 2011 AFP

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